Japan: five dead and over 100 hospitalized due to an anti-cholesterol supplement

“I deeply apologize for the great anxiety we have caused,” said Akihiro Kobayashi, president of the business group Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, on Friday.

An alarm has been raised in Japan due to the death of five people and the hospitalization of over 100 individuals, which is believed to be linked to a cholesterol-lowering dietary supplement.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical has recalled batches of the product from the market suspecting it to cause adverse health effects through kidney failure.

The case has sparked significant concern in Japan, with two deaths initially reported, followed by two more on Thursday, and a fifth reported on Friday. Additionally, there are 114 people hospitalized.

In a statement on Thursday, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical noted receiving reports of two deceased individuals who had consumed the supplement “Choleste help,” with at least one attributed to kidney failure. “We are in the process of confirming the facts and the causal relationship in both cases,” stated the group based in Osaka.

Last week, the company withdrew products of “Beni Koji Choleste Help” and two other brands containing an ingredient called red yeast rice (“beni koji”) following complaints of kidney problems from some consumers.

Medical studies describe this substance as an alternative to statins for lowering cholesterol but also warn of the danger of muscle, kidney, and liver damage. Besides marketing its products, the pharmaceutical company also supplied red yeast rice to around 50 companies in Japan and two others in Taiwan.

Dozens of these firms announced the withdrawal of affected products ranging from medical pills to sparkling wine, salad dressing, bread, or miso paste used in many traditional dishes. The exact cause of these health problems is still unknown.

On Friday, the company announced it is investigating a fifth death. Meanwhile, 114 individuals are hospitalized, according to the group in a press conference. All patients suffer from renal failure.

Media outlets also reported on Thursday a hospitalization case in Taiwan, potentially linked to these products. If confirmed, it would be the first known case outside of Japan.

“I deeply apologize for the great anxiety we have caused,” said Akihiro Kobayashi, president of the business group on Friday, bowing before the cameras alongside other company executives as a sign of contrition.

He also expressed “regret” that the company did not address the issue until the end of last week when it withdrew three ranges of the products in question, despite receiving an initial warning from a doctor on January 15.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical and Japanese health authorities continue to identify which substance in these dietary supplements could be causing the hospitalizations and deaths recorded.

The Osaka-based company also stated its intention to compensate individuals who suffered side effects or were hospitalized after taking their supplements.

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